Column: How Taylor Fritz moved ahead in the world tennis rankings by looking back
To continue moving forward Taylor Fritz of Rancho Palos Verdes first had to look back.
Fritz was trying to find ways to diversify his game and accelerate his climb up the tennis rankings when it occurred to him to seriously examine his longstanding joke that he had hit his forehand better when he was 17 or 18 years old than he had been doing in his early 20s. He dug up old video of his forehand and tried to replicate it in his matches. The rewards were almost immediate.
Fritz, 24, reached the final 16 at the Australian Open this year for the first time, a run that ended with a five-set loss to world No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas. He also improved his ranking to 16th last month, another career pinnacle.
Ranked No. 39 in the world when he made an impressive run to the semifinals of the pandemic-delayed BNP Paribas Open last October, Fritz arrived at this year’s event at No. 20 and with the short-term goal of cracking the top 10. The forehand that was so effective for him during his teen years has become a key element in his arsenal again and is fueling his quest to achieve the stardom that has been predicted for him since 2015, when he reached the French Open junior final and won the U.S. Open junior title.
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“I just went back and watched some videos of me hitting it back then and kind of start of visualizing that,” he said of his forehand, “and then it just started clicking in matches and I started really swinging out on it and it just started feeling really good.
“I think just my level as a player has gone up. I think I’ve gone up several levels. I think I’m a way better player than I was when I was here last year, and I think I’ve improved a lot. What’s kind of, I think, tying it all together and really making the difference is just the forehand. That’s become so much more of a weapon, I hit so many more winners on it than I used to. It’s just something I really kind of needed in my game. It sets up a lot of points, it wins me a lot of big points.”
Fritz, seeded No. 20 at this year’s Indian Wells tournament, opened play on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-1 rout of Kamil Majchrzak of Poland. Fritz had eight aces against the 75th-ranked Majchrzak, saved the only break point he faced on his serve, and was credited with 23 winners and 10 unforced errors in the 57-minute match.
Fritz said he was nervous Sunday but his jitters weren’t apparent. He was rightfully pleased with his performance but he wasn’t complacent, a healthy attitude to have as he prepared for his third-round matchup Tuesday against the winner of Sunday night’s match between No. 16 seed Pablo Carreno Busta and unseeded Jaume Munar.
“It sounds very nitpicky because obviously it was 6-1, 6-1 today, but I think there were some things I could have done a bit better,” Fritz said. “So, tighten up some things [Monday] in practice but, yeah, confidence-wise, it’s great to start out with a match like this.”
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Fritz, who trains in Carson, also credited his new coaching situation for his recent strong results. He had been coached by David Nainkin and Paul Annacone but when Nainkin stopped traveling Fritz added former tour player and U.S. Tennis Assn. coach Michael Russell to his team. Russell travels with Fritz full-time.
The adjustment has been smooth, Fritz said, because he and Russell had worked together for several weeks late last year. Russell has brought to their collaboration an intensity that Fritz acknowledged had been missing from his training.
“He pushes me really hard to work more, and sometimes I need that extra kick to do extra and work extra,” Fritz said. “So I think that’s something that works really well with us.”
As he spoke at a post-match news conference, his every word and move were being captured by a crew that has been following him to gather material for a Netflix docuseries. It’s supposed to give a behind-the-scenes look at life on the men’s tour and at Fritz himself.
Fritz has become accustomed to being on camera and he said he’s not being careful about what he says or does because he’s not worried about how he will come off.
“I’m just going to be myself and it is what it is on the outcome,” he said. “I hope people like me, but if not, I’m just not going to worry about it.”
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